After months of envisioning, talking about it and then finally buying a ticket, it was decided: I would be going on a four-week adventure to Southeast Asia. A new friend that I had met shortly after relocating to Portland, Oregon had mentioned her plans for a trip to Southeast Asia and although that area hadn’t ever crossed my mind on my travel bucket list, her enthusiasm for the location got the travel gears going in my head to join her. I figured I still had money in savings from my big move and I had a job, but I was planning to quit it due to a strong dislike to the morality of the company I worked for.
I started massively researching Southeast Asia months before the big takeoff and halfway into the planning I had to decide whether or not I’d want to have a cell phone while I was there. I had heard stories of how expensive international roaming was and I had also heard horror stories about travelers who had forgotten to put their phone on airplane mode and then getting charged astronomical fees upon going back to their home country.
“When I went to Europe with Jeff we got by without phones, we decided on meeting spots at certain times or we would just meet each other back at the hotel. You know Ilona, people did survive before cell phones….” was the advice my sister gave me after I called her in my serious questioning about whether or not I should get an international plan or a Sims card while in Asia.
A couple of weeks before the start of the big adventure to Asia I called my cell phone provider and asked them about my options, being newly unemployed I wanted to go with the cheapest option which boiled down to their “Seasonal Standby” plan in which with a set fee of $12, my cell phone would be turned off for the month. This turned out to be $70 cheaper than my usual monthly bill (alas, I would have no device to communicate on anymore.)
The week before the Asia adventure, I spoke with Sophie (my travel companion) about the cell phone plan I had chosen and immediately questioned if it was the right choice after she had told me how she chose to keep her usual plan so that she could receive the free wi-fi to still communicate via internet. That’s when it really hit me: not only would I not have a way to call friends and family on a whim, I would also not be able to Google, Facebook or email any one on a whim either. I took a deep breath and realized this would be a big adjustment, but I was willing to take it to save a few dollars. I also figured that Southeast Asia would overwhelm my senses so much that I would forget about my phone all together.
On the first day of July, the day before my departure to lands across the sea, I awoke and started my morning coffee while grabbing my cell phone to delete all the spam emails I usually received throughout the night along with reading any fun emails along the way. To my bewilderment, I looked down at the bright screen saver of my phone and saw in bold letters at the top of the screen: NO SERVICE. I felt a tight sensation in my chest that signified stress along with a feeling of depression that flooded over me. It was official, the month with no cell phone had started and I was questioning whether or not I really would survive without it.
As I sat in the airport before the 14-hour flight to Asia, my hand kept on getting magnetically pulled toward the pocket in my purse where I usually kept my phone. As I pulled out a book to read instead, I did a glance over of the seating area I was in and realized I was the only one reading printed pages, every one else in my surroundings had either a cell phone, a laptop, a kindle and/or the thousands of other technological devices one can acquire this day in age.
The first week of my trip continued this way, without my cell phone I noticed that I gained a keen awareness of what everyone and everything else was doing around me. There were countless times where I found myself a loner as everyone else around me would be looking down, entranced by their handheld technology. At one point I asked two new travel friends what they were up to on their phones, in which one of them said, with slight stress in his voice, “I’m finally deleting all of these emails that have overtaken my inbox.” It dawned on me that he was doing what my usual morning coffee hour consisted of back home and I realized right then and there that when I got back to the States, I was going to start a new morning routine, one that didn’t include looking at my phone upon waking up.
By the second week, I was really enjoying my cell phone-free self, it really brought me into the moment and made me incredibly introspective. When I would get bored, instead of mindlessly browsing the internet on my phone (which is something I’d normally do back home), I would catch up on reading, writing, taking pictures, meditating and daydreaming. My brain really seemed to open up and any mental blocks that I had seemed to vanish. The floodgates opened up and so many new ideas were coming to me.
I truly believe that I would not have taken in as much as I did on this trip had I brought my cell phone. Southeast Asia was quite a site and incredibly inspiring, but I also think that not having my distracting technology by my side was a big contributor in lifting some of the creative blocks I had. All of this technology brings a stress and numbness to our brains that previous generations never had to experience.
Ever since our cell phones have turned into mini computers, precious time and experiences get wasted or ignored. Moments that we can never get back will be missed due to our staring down at a little device that has basically become our generations television. One of my favorite comedians/social critics Bill Hicks has a quote that I love: “Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” I couldn’t have said it better, only our “television” is now constantly attached to us and controlling us in ways we’d never care to admit. I’m sure some could argue that they need their phones constantly on them for important business calls, but there is also something called voicemail that can be used every once in a while.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as any one else and I absolutely love watching movies and television marathons for hours on end or scrolling down my Facebook news feed mindlessly, I just think that we need to become more aware of life as it used to be….the simpler ways of life. If you have read this far, I thank you so much for taking time to read this and I just ask one thing of you. Put down this technological device, even if for just 15 minutes and take in the life around you. Take in the colors, the feel of your breath, the sounds surrounding you. Just remember there is a lot more to life than these little devices, so next time you accidentally drop your phone in the toilet or it gets smashed to pieces by an accidental drop, don’t feel too bad because life exists outside of it. That cell phone can get replaced, but moments in the present exist for a miniscule second and can never be replaced.